• Impressive Computer Audio Products From Philips

    The name Philips is not mentioned all that often in computer audio circles. Philips technologies on the other hand are mentioned all the time even though audiophiles might not put two and two together and attribute some technologies to Philips. The Sony / Philips Digital InterFace (S/PDIF) comes up in nearly as many conversations as USB. I'm willing to bet the market penetration of DACs with an S/PDIF interface is over four nines (%99.99). Then there are Philips retail products. These products are more likely to be in an audiophile's kitchen or bathroom than listening room. Last week I was invited to the Philips Winter Media Event in Barcelona, Spain. The event was like a miniature CES with only Philips products presented. Engineers for every Philips product were on hand to answer just about every question. Although the 21:9 3D HDTV on display was stunning it, and most other products, fell outside the scope of Computer Audiophile. Two products that caught my eye and may catch CA readers' eyes are the Philips Fidelio SoundSphere with AirPlay® and the Philips HiFi Multiroom System. Neither product is what I call high-end but I see many scenarios where either product could satisfy the needs of computer audiophiles for a reasonable price.



     


    Philips Winter Media Event 2011

    Before continuing it's important to get one point across. I was under absolutely no obligation to write a single word about this event. When contacted the first question I asked the philips representative was "What is expected of me if I attend?" The answer was "If you see anything you like we hope you decide to write about it." There's no way I would have covered this event if I was obligated to write about products that didn't thrill me or products unrelated to Computer Audiophile. That said, everyone associated with the event was first class and very accessible to answer questions.

    As I said previously I found two Philips products to be pretty impressive. The newly improved Fidelio SoundSphere with AirPlay® and the WiFi Multiroom HiFi system. Even more impressive than the products was Philips' focus on good quality sound. Philips calls it Obsessed with Sound.
    I spent some time after one presentation with a Philips engineer to discuss sound quality. The conversation covered topics such as lossless audio, FLAC, sample rates, and the poor quality of lossy formats that have dominated the last many years. I was excited to hear from such a giant in the consumer electronics industry that it was truly interested in and developing products for high quality sound reproduction. The engineer I talked to was very familiar with all the software applications Computer Audiophile readers use. At home he has different UPnP servers running and different playback applications to send lossless audio to multiple devices. It's pretty easy to tell if people know what they are talking about and if they know what's going on in the industry when it comes to computer playback. This guy certainly knows what he was talking about and could fit right into the CA forum seamlessly. Who knows maybe we've all been talking to him already :~)

    One of the presentations at the Philips event was from Grammy winning producer Steve Lilywhite. Steve shared stories of his many years working with artists such as U2, Dave Matthews Band, and The Rolling Stones. Oddly enough one of Steve's first jobs was working for Philips in its recording studio in London many years ago.

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    Philips Fidelio SoundSphere

    soundsphere-00The Philips Fidelio SoundSphere speakers are self powered with a built-in DAC. The new design of these speakers is much more aesthetically pleasing than the previous squarish metal enclosures of the previous model. The base of the Fidelio SoundSphere is created with 70 individual pieces of wood put together like a seamless puzzle. In person these speakers look equally as impressive as they do in the high resolution photos. The floating tweeter is an interesting concept that enables one to listen fairly far off-axis without a severe sonic impact. The chances are pretty good that users of these speakers will not be sitting in the sweet spot for extended periods of time to enjoy music. This design allows one to walk around the room and still enjoy the sonic quality of the Fidelio SoundSphere. The tweeter may appear a bit fragile as it sits on a skinny connection to the main speaker body. However, I was impressed when the product designer lifted the entire speaker with two fingers pulling up on the tweeter housing. this may not be the ideal way to dust around the Fidelio SoundSpheres but it can be done in a pinch. In my brief audition of these speakers with an iPad as the source via AirPlay® I enjoyed the sound. This is a speaker built for a wide range of installations. It won't fair well as main speakers in an all-out audiophile assault, but the sound should be very enjoyable in an office, kitchen, bedroom, or any other "normal" room in a house. Possibly even more important than all of this is the Wife Acceptance Factor. It's off the charts with the Fidelio SoundSphere.

    The Philips Fidelio SoundSphere is expected to be available from May 2011 with a recommended retail price of around $1,100.

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    Philips WiFi Multiroom HiFi System

    The Philips WiFi Multiroom HiFi System consists of two components the MCI8080 main unit with separate speakers and the NP3700 satellite unit with built-in speakers. This system is also not considered high-end but should please many readers looking for a simple way to stream music around the house without the need to have a computer on at all times. The three best parts of this WiFi HiFi system are its support for FLAC lossless audio, UPnP/DLNA, and playback of the same or different music in each zone. This system is designed to work with open systems like UPnP and does not work with Apple's AirPlay®. Philips has released its own Android, and iPad/iPhone app called Fidelio [App Store Link]. This app is designed to control all sources of music capable of playing through the WiFi HiFi system. It will control the CD player, Internet radio, local music files, and even music from a UPnP server. During a presentation for this system I opened PlugPlayer on my iPhone and confirmed it's fully compatible with UPnP as I could select the Philips components from the device list. The WiFi HiFi system is advertised as being capable of storing 2000 albums. Audiophiles certainly know this number will shrink for uncompressed audio. The disk storage is located on an external 160GB hard drive. As of this writing I am unsure is a larger drive can be attached. I do like the design decision made by Philips to keep the hard drive outside the main unit. This should allow simple replacement when the drive fails. The built-in touchscreen on both the MCI8080 main unit and the NP3700 satellite unit is OK. It's nothing like an iPhone touchscreen but also much better than the MiMo Touchscreen Monitors I've used.

    One additional note: Philips has teamed with the creators of Songbird to develop a Philips version of the application that supports UPnP/DLNA playback.

    Availability and price of the Philips WiFi Multiroom HiFi System components was not available at the time of this writing.

       



     

    Additional Info

    Some pictures of the Barcelona event and a nice video of the Obsessed with Sound campaign featuring Steve Lilywhite can be found at the following links.



     





     

     


     
    Comments 16 Comments
    1. ronfint's Avatar
      ronfint -
      I just flashed the photo of the 'Soundspheres' across the breakfast table to test the so-called WAF. My wife agreed with me, "Hoo boy --are they ugly!"
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      "Spousal acceptance factor" or "Partner acceptance factor" might be more inclusive that this cliche of the white male capitalist heterosexist theocratic marital-enslavement-validating mono-monogamist patriarchy.<br />
      <br />
      ; ) <-- please note the winkie of absolution<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      Oh, and does that woman come with the speakers? I need to own at least six.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      I love the humor :~)
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      ... and now it is a little too late to edit.<br />
      <br />
      It is amazing what a little codeine in the cough suppressant can inspire.<br />
      <br />
      Returning, however reluctantly, to the topic, these Philips speakers actually look quite appealing and definitely fill a (mostly) unoccupied niche, i.e., something that (presumably) sounds quite good and can be used to stream via airplay.<br />
      <br />
      Any idea how the sound compares to the new B&W airplay Zeppelin? That goes for $600, so I am curious whether these are a significant bump up from that in terms of performance.<br />
      <br />
      (This isn't an idle question, since I am thinking about something for my office.)
    1. Paul R's Avatar
      Paul R -
      I showed them to Karen, and she immediately thought they looked like ashtrays. She then proceeded to give me the evil eye and asked if I had started smoking again...<br />
      <br />
      Talk about a cognitive leap... <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      -Paul<br />
    1. ronfint's Avatar
      ronfint -
      here is what the Soundspheres look like to me<br />
      <br />
      <img src="http://www.math.msu.edu/~ronfint/ET.jpg"><br />
      <br />
      Ron
    1. Frank Mercurio's Avatar
      Frank Mercurio -
      Chris, <br />
      Is it possible to use the Fidelio SoundSpheres with a TV as a source?<br />
      <br />
      If that can be accomplished, it would certainly make their appearance far more palatable and definitely more versatile.
    1. peeny's Avatar
      peeny -
      Philips has a wide range of electronic products..<br />
      but this Philips speaker and this variety of speaker are great....<br />
      i liked the photos and the video very much..<br />
      hope i get more such great Philips products..<br />
      thanks..<br />
      <br />
      <a href="http://www.etechworld.net">e-book readers</a>
    1. Bob Stern's Avatar
      Bob Stern -
      The more interesting topic is Chris's non-audio sightseeing, eating, etc. in Barcelona and environs.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Barcelona is a wonderful city :~)
    1. confitesprit's Avatar
      confitesprit -
      And hopefully, this isn't too far off-topic.<br />
      <br />
      I've been lurking here for quite some time, and I've learned a huge amount from the participants on this site. I confess to not being the audiophile that most of you are, but I do love music and good sound and enjoying the fruits of this wonderful place in my own home. Having dived in head first and gone completely digital (macbook server with a 1TB external hard drive running iTunes directly into AVI ADM9.1's in my living room, and using a Focal XS 2.1 Multimedia setup in my upstairs office), I find that I'm missing local FM and AM radio broadcasts, particularly baseball games! I was wondering if anyone knew if Philips or some other OEM was making an AM/FM tuner with a USB out I could use as a source? Sure, I can stream lots of FM and Internet Radio off the web, but I'd kinda like to be able to just tune into the local programs occasionally, as well. If anybody has any ideas or comments, would love to hear them.<br />
      <br />
      By the way, I'm traveling to Barcelona in mid-April for an industry conference, and very much looking forward to it, too.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks, Chris!<br />
      <br />
    1. Paul R's Avatar
      Paul R -
      Not quite a direct answer, but did you MLB is on the Apple TV2 now? Subscription of course, but lots and lots of games. <br />
      <br />
      -Paul<br />
    1. confitesprit's Avatar
      confitesprit -
      but then I haven't owned a TV for over a dozen years. We watch lots of film and videos (I say we, but it's my wife mostly!), but no TV. Only time I see it is when I am out traveling on business, and that has been far too often lately (traveling, that is). Thanks for the info, though....
    1. Paul R's Avatar
      Paul R -
      We haven't watched "live" TV in quite some time, and even cancelled our cable TV service. (We kept the internet service.) <br />
      <br />
      iTunes and NetFlix are heavily used though. <br />
      <br />
      -Paul<br />
    1. schadenfreude's Avatar
      schadenfreude -
      How come no one mentioned the Fidelios look ALOT like Linkwitz's Plutos<br />
      http://www.linkwitzlab.com/Pluto/photos.htm<br />
      <br />
      and Mirage's speakers?<br />
      http://www.miragespeakers.com/na-en/products/bookshelf/<br />
    1. Riot Nrrrd's Avatar
      Riot Nrrrd -
      Chris (or anyone else),<br />
      <br />
      I'm still happily using my Harman/Kardon SoundSticks® in my home computer room as well as my office at work.<br />
      <br />
      I like the fact that they have a sub-woofer component and the fact that the 4-tweeter satellite units have a small footprint. All 3 components fit neatly onto a very small desk space.<br />
      <br />
      I mostly listen to Electronic music so having a sub is ideal/important for me.<br />
      <br />
      How do these types of units (Fidelio SoundSpheres) compare to such a setup? Ignoring the shape are they of "studio reference monitor" quality?<br />